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Celebrities Help USO, Jeep Honor Military Families at Warrior and Family Center Event

Thursday, February 07, 2013

By Eric Brandner 

Ray Rice is used to winning.

So when one of the youngest attendees of Wednesday’s Jeep event at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., snuck a goal by him at the foosball table, the new Super Bowl champion stood back in mock disbelief. Then, amid the flash of smartphone cameras, the Ravens tailback shed his suit jacket, dropped to the floor and did 10 pushups as penance.

It was all part of the fun during Jeep’s day of service to celebrate the launch of Operation SAFE Return.

“You are truly the heroes for us,” Rice told the crowd of more than 220 troops and family members Wednesday night.

Jeep and the USO packed the Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir for an exciting night punctuated by a dinner prepared by celebrity chef and former Marine John Besh. Rice and actress Olivia Munn of HBO’s “The Newsroom” also joined the event, mingling with troops and their families and posing for pictures during the three-hour event.

“It was over 20 years ago that I came home from the [Gulf] War,” Besh said. “And the first people to greet me off the plane was the USO.

“I’m the father of four boys, and to hear all the kids running around and seeing families connect [at the Warrior and Family Center] … it almost brings tears to my eyes.”

Jeep – through Operation SAFE Return – has committed $1.3 million in cash and vehicle donations to USO’s Operation Enduring Care (OEC) campaign. That campaign raises funds for the two USO Warrior and Family Centers – including the one that opened Tuesday on Fort Belvoir – and USO Warrior and Family Care programming that helps troops both heal and find their future path.

“This [center] is a gift to you from a grateful nation made possible by countless individuals and wonderful organizations like the Jeep brand,” USO President Sloan Gibson told the troops and families who filled the new center.

According to Jeep, Operation SAFE Return is built on four principles that make up the acronym SAFE. The S is for Secure Transport, which is where Jeep’s vehicle donation comes in. Next is Aid for Transition, with Jeep pledging to support career and life transition programs for troops and give military buyers incentives to purchase Jeep vehicles. Third is Freedom Adventures, in which Jeep plans to provide outings for troops. And the E stands for Enduring Care, which is Jeep’s nod to the USO’s OEC campaign.

“Through our Operation SAFE Return Program, we hope and we pray we can do great things … for all of you who are here today who do so much for our country,” said Kim Adams House, head of Jeep advertising at Chrysler.

While the brand used its Super Bowl commercial to announce the launch of the campaign, Jeep has already contributed significantly to the Fort Belvoir center, pledging funds for the 450-square-foot state-of-the-art kitchen. The kitchen’s multiple modern, ADA-compliant appliances and countertops make it easy for troops with physical limitations to prepare home-cooked meals. Add in an endless supply of free drinks and snacks, and the kitchen has already become a popular destination during the center’s first few days of operations.

As part of the initiative, Jeep established the SAFE Return Fund, which will contribute $250 to the USO for each Wrangler, Wrangler Unlimited and Patriot Freedom Edition it sells. Operation SAFE Return also offers an interactive twist. Jeep will donate $1 to the USO – with a cap of $300,000 – for each tweet featuring the hashtag #JoinOSR from now until May 27.

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Photo caption: Baltimore Ravens tailback Ray Rice plays foosball with the children of military personnel Wednesday during Jeep's Operation SAFE Return at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. (Photo by Mike Theiler) 

* Shop USO Wishbook to donate funds that helps more troops and families enjoy the programs and services that the USO offers worldwide.  

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